Timely alert against Disaster

Parliament’s discussion of the Punjab situation last week on an adjournment motion helped to spotlight a matter of crucial national importance which is not receiving the attention it deserves. The issue: communalism, which led to India’s partition and again threatens to play havoc with the country. The credit for raising the subject goes to Mr. Charan Singh and his thought provoking but poorly reported speech. The former Prime Minister spoke for almost 50 minutes and did what was expected of a top leader even as a Congress-I member repeatedly interrupted: “Baba Adam ki baat choriye. Aaj ke sawal per boliye.” (Forget about old times. Talk of today’s issue.) Strictly, the discussion was on “the failure of the Government to ensure that religious places like the Golden Temple are not used in a manner to aggravate law and order situation as evidenced by the killing of a senior IPS officer near the Golden Temple, Amritsar.” But Mr. Charan Singh wisely used the occasion to analyse the situation, direct notice to mounting communalism and sound a timely alert against drifting to disaster.

The Lok Dal leader made his basic point by recalling something which few seemed to remember: a unanimous resolution adopted by the Constituent Assembly (Legislative) way back on April 3, 1948 to eliminate communalism from India’s body politic. Things, he said, would not have come to the present tragic pass if only the resolution had been implemented. The resolution, which deserves to be reproduced, reads: “Whereas it is essential for the proper functioning of democracy and the growth of national unity and solidarity that communalism should be eliminated from Indian life, this Assembly is of the opinion that no communal organization which by its constitution or by the exercise of discretionary power vested in any of its officers or organs, admits to or excludes from its membership persons on ground of religion, race and caste, or any of them, should be permitted to engage in any activities other than those essential for the bona fide religious, cultural, social and educational needs of the community, and that all steps, legislative and administrative, necessary to prevent such activities should be taken.”

Mr Charan Singh did not go into the details of the resolution. But I later found the motion was moved by Mr. Ananthasayanam Ayyangar, who became Speaker of the Lok Sabha, and was supported by an impressive list of members, headed by Jawaharlal Nehru, then Prime Minister and Leader of the House. Prominent among the others were Mr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir, Prof. N.C. Ranga and Mr. Tajamal Hasan. What Nehru said then is like a breath of fresh air today. But before quoting him I would like to recall another little known fact. The Assembly  resolution went far ahead of the Government and the Congress Working Committee resolutions adopted following the Mahatma’s martyrdom. The Government resolution said: “There is no place in India today for any organization preaching violence or communal hatred…. No such organization will, therefore, be tolerated.” The Working Committee resolution called upon “all Congressmen and organizations to initiate and carry out in intensive drive against communalism…”

At least one member, Haji Abdul Sattar Haji Ishaq Seth argued during the debate on Mr. Ayyangar’s resolution that the ban should be imposed only on organizations “preaching violence and communal hatred” as emphasized by the Government earlier. But Nehru preferred to go along with Mr. Ayyangar’s formulation. In fact, Nehru’s mind was made from the word go.He took the floor soon after Mr. Ayyangar and said: “Sir, before this debate proceeds any further I should like to indicate the attitude of Government in regard to this resolution. Government welcome this resolution and desire to say that they wish to do everything in their power to achieve the objective which lies behind this resolution. After the eloquent speech of the honourable mover I need not say much about the desirability of this resolution. As a matter of fact, it is an inevitable policy which an independent country must adopt… Even in the past, those of us who accepted any measure of communalism erred and acted unwisely and we have suffered greatly for our unwisdom.”

Nehru then said: “In the past conditions were different. But when a country is functioning independently, there is no alternative except to follow this (policy). The only alternative is civil conflict. We have seen as a matter of fact how far communalism in politics has led us; all of us remember the grave danger through which we have passed and the terrible consequences we have seen. IN any event now there is no other alternative; and we must have it clearly in our minds and in the mind of the country that the alliance of religion and politics in the shape of communalism is a most dangerous alliance, and it yields the most abnormal kind of illegitimate brood… The combination of politics and religion, resulting in communal politics is a most dangerous combination and must be put an end to. It is harmful to the country as a whole; it is harmful to the majority, but probably it is most harmful to any minority that seeks to have some advantage from it. I think even the past history of India will show that”.

Some people have of late raised a demand for reviving reservations and separate treatment for the minorities. Nehru touched on this point, too, and said: “We have to think always in terms of raising the level of all those who have been denied opportunities in the past. I do not personally think myself that the best way to do that on the political plane is reservation of seats and the rest. I think the best way, and the more basic and fundamental way, it is to advance them rapidly in the economic and educational spheres and then they will stand on their own feet. There is a great danger whether you deal with an individual, group of community, of giving certain props to that community which gives it a false sense of strength which does not belong to it, which does not come out of its own strength, but which is external to it and which when removed suddenly makes it weak… So these external props, as I might call them— that is reservation of seats and the rest — may occasionally be helpful possibly in the case of the backward groups, but they produce a false sense of the political relation a false sense of strength…”

Mr. Charan Singh’s lament was not limited to the resolution. He regretted that Nehru had not only not implemented the resolution but had greatly encouraged communalism by allowing the Congress Party to form a coalition Government with the Muslim League in Kerala in 1960. Nehru as Prime Minister and Mrs. Gandhi as the Congress Chief, he said, had then argued that the Muslim League in Kerala was “different and not communal as in the north”. But the explanation was unconvincing. (Nehru, I learn, did oppose the coalition with the League when it was first proposed by Mr. Dhebar as Congress President. Mr. Sadiq Ali, who was then General Secretary, recalls: “Panditji reacted sharply and said: ‘You do it. But I will oppose it in the AICC.” The proposed was then dropped. But it was revived successfully by Mrs .Gandhi when she took over as President not long thereafter.) Mr. Charan Singh said communalism “got a further fillip under Mrs. Gandhi” when India sought to participate in the Islamic Summit at Rabat (September 1969) and subsequently accepted the active support of the Muslim League for her party candidates to the Lok Sabha from Bombay city in 1971. Some countries like Syria had then stayed away from Rabat on the ground that they were secular.

Interestingly, the Lok Dal leader recalled his talk with Mrs. Gandhi in October last year and said he had told her quite plainly that “Congress-I policies had led to the rise of communalism, casteism and linguism, leading to regionalism”. He had also conveyed all these views to her in a subsequent letter dated February 22, 1983 In his talk and in the letter, he had accused her of making a “hero” of Sant Bhindrawale and asked: what stands in the way of the Government arresting him or, for that matter, any man wanted by the police, from inside a Gurudwara or any other place of worship? Second, should a suspect be put above law and allowed to select the time and place of his surrender to the guardians of law in the presence of a huge gathering? Third, Sant Bhindrawale was allowed to come to Delhi and go around the capital with unlicensed arms conspicuously displayed on top of the bus in which he and his colleagues were travelling — despite the fact that the Chief Minister of Punjab had warned the Union Home Ministry of the intentions of the Sant. Quried the Chaudhuri: “For God’s sake why?”

Mr. Charan Singh also quoted an excerpt from Mrs. Gandhi’s reply of March 25, to his letter in which she said: “We do not have to prove our bona fides in our desire to deal firmly with communal elements. We are certainly concerned about sanctuary being provided to anti-social elements in Gurudwaras, but your suggestion of policemen entering places of worship is likely t have repercussions which cannot be ignored.” But Mr. Charan Singh went on to emphasise: “No one can be allowed to be above law. Criminals must be apprehended and duly punished. The Government must assert itself. Either rule or resign”. Expectedly, the Opposition members cheered the Chaudhuri who came out of the debate remarkably well. At one stage, when Mr. Charan Singh was indicting Nehru and Mrs. Gandhi for joining hands with the Muslim League in Kerala, a Congress-I member interjected: “What about Muslim Majlis?” Mr. Charan Singh maintained his cool and said “Yes, some of us joined hands with them to form a Government (in U.P.) But as I said at the outset, we all are to blame. Our leaders went wrong and we copied them. Even now the ruling party is pandering to extremist elements for the sake of votes — and power.”

It is a pity that Mrs. Gandhi was not present in the House during the debate and, according to the Home Minister, Mr. P.C. Sethi, chose to hear the discussion in her room through the relay.   Had she been there, she could have intervened in the debate in the best tradition of her father an given Parliament her reply to the many charges made by Mr. Charan Singh. Mr. Sethi’s denial of these charges as “unfortunate” was not enough. Clearly, there is need to take a good look at what the Lok Dal leader has said against the backdrop of what Mrs. Gandhi herself stated on April 26 at Jaipur. She said that communal and caste elements were “raising their head again and a united and determined effort was required to combat them.” Yet, six days earlier, the Minister of State for Home, Mr.Laskar, told Parliament: “The Government has no proposal to ban any political party or organisation allegedly propagating communal hatred, casteism and violence in the country.” Either we wish to eliminate communalism or we do not. We can ignore the warning given by the Chaudhuri at our own peril. —INFA


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Inder Jit

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